What Works for Me, Part Two

This is the second part of a little blog series I’m writing called “What Works for Me,” in which I’m sharing the ins and outs of my spirituality. I hope you find it useful.

Last time I talked about “Open-Mindedness,” one of the spiritual principles that I try to live by. The second principle (but again: these are not linear, but are inter-woven and inter-dependent) is self-honesty.

SELF-HONESTY

Being honest with myself means that, before I complain about other people and their behavior, I take a look at ME.

And I mean a REAL look.

It’s so easy for me to let, well, ME off the hook. I make excuses for the same behavior in my own life that I normally scream about in others’ lives.

(In fact, the longer I live in this life, the more convinced I am that when something REALLY infuriates me, it’s usually an indication that, somewhere, somehow, I am guilty of doing the EXACT SAME THING.)

Self-honesty means owning my own thoughts and behaviors on a very deep and sincere level WITHOUT SHAMING myself (because, to the degree that PRIDE is about distinguishing myself from everyone else—”I am the best” OR “I am the worst”—SHAME is just another expression of pride).

Self-honesty means that I am always willing to ask myself, “okay but what did I do?” BEFORE I dwell on what someone else did to me.

Because, the truth is (if I’m being honest), my motives are practically ALWAYS mixed.

(NOTE: that question above does not address issues of abuse or victimization. There are many times in my childhood where I have not done ANYTHING to “deserve” the treatment that I received. But as an adult, I have had to be at least willing to entertain the thought that I have a part in a lot of the difficulties in my life.)

Already you can probably see the relationship between being open-minded and being honest with yourself. CLOSE-mindedness can very easily conclude, “It’s THEIR fault,” while being open-minded introduces the idea that maybe, JUST maybe I had some role in whatever is going on in my life.”

(Which, by the way, means that I have AGENCY—response ABILITY—to do something about it.)

Practicing self-honesty, to me, means that I normally reflect on my behavior in a day, and ask myself about my thought life and behavior. Was I selfish? Was I fearful? Did I over-react to a situation? Was I ambitious and prideful?

There’s nothing damning or too damaging in these answers. They are meant to remind me that NO ONE (including/especially me) is perfect.

Additionally, practicing self-honesty ALSO means that, because I am prone to making mistakes, I am likely to hurt other people. AND if I have hurt other people, that means I can also be open (and willing) to going to them and apologizing, and trying my best to make the situation right in some way.

But that’s getting into WILLINGNESS (which is next).

40 Words: “Humility” (02.22.2016)

Humility is one of the most powerful concepts in English language.

It’s also sorely lacking in most of the world.

As my spiritual director reminds me, “Humility is being right-sized.”

It’s not about thinking of ourselves as a only dirt, or only broken. It’s more about having an accurate view of ourselves: we are created in God’s image, just a little lower than angels…

and we often do really crappy things.

Capable of so much, both good and bad.

My Lenten journey has been such an opportunity for, well, humility.

My fasts are not always perfectly kept.

I’m not always the most peaceful, willing pilgrim.

Right when I think I’m about to scale spiritual heights, I lose my temper (usually in traffic).

It’s a great reminder of what it means to be human.

Dream … Small

Are big dreams the only dreams

Last week I spent two days along with some other leaders from my church at Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit (full disclosure: my wife actually works for the GLS). As usual the conference was full of top-notch speakers and cutting edge leadership and vision discussions, and it was awesome to take a bunch of folks from my church and have them hear such great speakers.

However, with where I’m at in my life personally, the GLS brought up some interesting tensions. Most of the speakers (Christian and otherwise) talked over and over again about having huge dreams, and how important these big dreams are to the world.

The particular challenge that I have in my life—and one that I have to continually come to terms with—is how damaging “big dreams” actually are to my life. You see, if you were susceptible at all (like I am) to the ravages of pride and self-centeredness, then big dreams are actually the worst possible things that you can entertain. When I allow big dreams to enter my life without some kind of balance, interior wreckage and disaster and seems.

In other words, big dreams can be an absolute disaster in my life.

And yet, this is where so much of Christian culture seems to be nowadays. I think one speaker even said something like if we leave something undone in the world, then God will never get it done. To my thinking this is outrageous.

Whenever I hear really really good people talking about grandiose visions and making some kind of huge impact in the world, I think about Richard Rohr’s comments about how the United States professes to be such a thriving Christian culture and yet we are at least as addicted and obsessive as everyone else in the world; maybe moreso.

Anybody in recovery would tell you that pride and self-centeredness are foundational “sins” that fuel our addictive and compulsive behaviors. 

Can the church actually be contributing to this addiction and compulsion?

Don’t get me wrong, I took lots and lots of notes last Thursday and Friday. I love learning new things. My voracious curiosity is a huge part of who I am. But I can only take these new ideas seriously to a certain degree in my life before they start getting unhealthy.

To be blunt, I actually think that what the church needs is people who dream small dreams. People who want the kingdom inside their hearts to be ruled by God, rather then doing some amazing outward work of ministry.

I think truly transformed and enlightened individuals who have dreamed the small dream of simply, “Change me, Lord,” can make a drastic difference in our schools church, churches, and neighborhoods.

How do you organize a conference around that?

At the same time, however, I want to say  that there were some really powerful glimpses of hope. For instance, a good friend of mine did an impromptu interview on camera, and in subtle but firm contrast to all of the talk of big dreams and grandiose visions, he related about how his call to ministry was one small, open window after another. He said something like, “for me to think that one day I would be leading worship at the Global Leadership Summit when I started out in ministry would’ve been absolutely outside of my framework. But it seems like God just open tiny little edoors one after the other and I just was faithful to what he brought to me.”

(I am paraphrasing)

In addition, Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, made a passing comment that was struck me. He mentioned that working for him was “not about the career, it was about the work.” In other words, what he seemed to be saying is that sometimes you need to forget the big dreams and do the things, day-to-day, that you love to do. I wonder if some pastors (if you’re anything like me) need to remember “the work” they were called to do (put loosely: preaching and healing) and why they do what they do and press “pause” on the big dreams and visions for a little while

Put the career on hold, and focus on the work.

After all, I think God has the big things covered.

The Key to Everything: Humility

journalsYesterday, I took part in a panel discussion at church about “resetting” for the New Year. We talked about some of the rituals and systems we use to try and get ourselves for the New Year.

It was fun to talk about my journals and such, and some of my approach to this season of the year, but I was left wondering if anyone “got it”.

At one point I said from the stage, “If you don’t expect anything more out of 2014 than what you did in 2014, I’d challenge you to examine what you expect out of your faith.” 

Do people really believe in transformation?

Do you?

Do you believe you can change?

Do you believe you’re called to?

I think it actually boils down to some very basic beliefs, so let me ask you:

  • In John 4, Jesus says that he offers water that will become a spring of water that bubbles up (inside us) into eternal life…
  • In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul says that we have the mind of Christ…

Were they liars? 

Were they only talking to “super-Christians”? 

As one of my spiritual mentors says, “Either it is, or it isn’t.” 

So, if Jesus and Paul knew something about life; if they really meant what they said, then we are left to wrestle with their statements.

The burden is on us.

Question 1: Do you want to have the mind of Christ? to have a constant stream of living water inside you? 

Question 2: What are you prepared to surrender in order to gain it? 

This is the point where many of us get snagged, if for no reason than this: we have our lives, our systems of existence, and we don’t like to think that they maybe aren’t working. 

So where do we start?

We start with humility. We start with the admission that we actually don’t know what’s best for us. We declare as best we can, “I believe that there’s something more for me, but my life isn’t set up to obtain it. God help me.”

He wants to.

Someone asked a desert hermit once, “What is the way to make progress?” The hermit answered, “Humility. The more we bend ourselves to humility, the more we are lifted up to make progress.”

Humility declares, “I don’t know the way.”

Humility opens the door to learning. To growth. 

Humility says, “There must be more, and I am open to it.”

Humility says, “I cannot save myself.”

(By the way, humility is not merely self-deprecating or a way for us to belittle ourselves; it is a way to open ourselves up to growth and change. Feeling sorry for ourselves can actually merely be another way to be arrogant and self-centered. True humility is accompanied by a desire and willingness to change, to move, to reconsider.)

So, as 2013 begins, where are you with humility? Have you figured it all out, or are you still willing to acknowledge that you need to make more “progress”?

If you’re still learning, still growing, still changing, what are you doing to continue to learn and grow this year?

I Am (or A Call to Humility)

As some of you may know, during Jesus’ ministry there was not a single monolithic “Judaism.” Rather, different groups were interpreting and expressing their faith in unique ways. Broadly speaking…

… in an attempt to achieve and maintain purity and distinctiveness from the surrounding corrupt culture, the Essenes had chosen to retreat away from society. They lived in desert communities, and were preparing for a final military battle, where they would be recognized as the “true followers” of YHWH.

… the Sadduccees were largely afluent, and had aligned themselves with the economic and political structure that surrounded the Temple in Jerusalem. Because they were well off, they weren’t interested in any sort of change. They’d “got theirs”, and weren’t interested in any dialogue that might involve a loss on their end. Relatedly, they didn’t believe in the resurrection (because who needs resurrection when you have the good life on this side of death?).

… the Pharisees were the “peoples’ champions,” being popular with the masses. They were concerned with the purity of God’s people: not for purity’s sake, but so God might return to Israel and overthrow the Roman/pagan empire that controlled them. Because, in their view, God’s return depended on Israel’s purity (and quite a few people agreed with them), they sought to “help” the people fulfill the Law in as complete a way as possible.

… The Zealots were absolutely convinced that they were God’s people, and that God needed to rule them. The problem was that, at the time, Rome was ruling Israel. The Zealots desperately wanted to change that, in any way they could. They demanded change now. Which meant military resistance. Which meant weapons. Which even meant political murder. Anything to bring about the “Rule of God” in their nation.

… The Romans, lastly, had little interest in matters of faith. They had their Gods and, for the most part, were tolerant of their subjects’ beliefs. What the Jews believed about YHWH mattered little to them, as long as the peace was kept and commerce was undisturbed. Though the Romans had their pantheon of gods, the Roman “state”, for all intensive purposes, was god and supreme authority. They were supremely pragmatic, and ultimately “might made right”. The Romans got their way because they had the swords and the legions.

For years, it’s been popular for the church to ridicule and lionize Jesus’ rivals. Constant insinuations of, “Wow how could you be so off? How could you miss Jesus?…

“I mean, it’s Jesus for crying out loud!”

Message after message insinuates that somehow we would’ve gotten it right. We would’ve bet on the right horse.  I guess it’s easy to believe that somehow we’re above falling victim to all of these “silly” beliefs…

Actually it’s arrogance. We’re not above any of them.

Whether it’s just my natural tendency towards (sometimes false) humility or not, I wonder if we shouldn’t give a tad more grace to all of these groups. In fact, I’d say it this way…

I’m an Essene whenever I come to believe that God has given up on this world and it’s going over the cliff; whenever I decide to retreat inside the walls of Christian “safety” and wait for Jesus to come back and “fix everything”…

I’m a Sadduccee whenever I deny that Jesus has broken the power of death, and begin acting like this life is all there is; when I forget that this life is not the end of the story; I’m also a Sadduccee when I prefer my security, power and money over what God may be leading me towards…

I’m a Pharisee (a lot, actually) whenever I decide that someone else’s “righteousness” needs to look like mine; when I decide that somehow I know the path for others, and that they are somehow inferior to me…

I’m a Zealot whenever I decide that political power = spiritual righteousness, and whenever I think that a political party (a) has exclusive rights to God or (b) will be the savior of our nation…

Lastly, I’m a Roman whenever I choose to ignore the presence of Jesus and His call to come and die at His cross, whenever I prefer to worship the gods of pragmatism and strength, rather than weakness and service…

I’m all of these things. I don’t know if I would’ve been numbered among Jesus’ followers, or the crowd, or even the Romans who beat him and nailed him to the cross.

Good thing He died for all of those folks.

And me too. But I think it would be great if we can learn that none of us are above mis-reading Jesus, and when we talk about how “silly” these folks were, we are already walking down the road towards an unsettling arrogance and close-mindedness.